INSIDE MOBILE: Voice Recognition in Mobile Phones

Sophisticated voice recognition technology is now available to process spoken commands and convert speech to text in your mobile phone. Here, Knowledge Center mobile and wireless analyst J. Gerry Purdy discusses the real convenience benefits of today's voice recognition technology in mobile phones.


Companies such as Nuance, Vlingo, Yap and others have developed some sophisticated technology to process spoken commands and convert speech to text in your mobile phone. The following seven statements are the kind of commands that new mobile voice recognition applications can do, or will soon be able to do, in your smartphone:

1. "Call Alicia's mobile number."

2. "Text message to Bryan and Jason. Congrats on the Giants winning the World Series."

3. "Find the nearest Starbucks to meet with Kristi."

4. "Get directions and map from home to Houston's restaurant near Lenox Square."

5. "Make a reservation at BJ's to have dinner with Jennifer Thursday at 7:30pm."

6. "E-mail message to Jill. Love to the grandkids. Hug each of them for me."

7. "Look up Bruce Grant in Contacts."

Processing spoken commands and converting the speech into text in mobile phones is a difficult problem to solve. It wasn't too long ago that companies such as IBM were using large mainframe computers to process speech. Then, fairly good processing came to the PC. Over the past few years, very good speech recognition systems have been created for mobile devices. To be sure, many systems use a "client/cloud" model in which the speech is recorded and preprocessed on the phone. Then it's sent off to the supplier's more powerful system that does the "heavy lifting" and the results are sent back to the phone for display and use by the subscriber.

Voice recognition and processing applications

Today, most smartphone users can download a voice recognition and processing application that can either do a lot of things (Nuance) or do more specific things such as search or navigation. Here are eight typical capabilities of today's voice recognition and processing in mobile phones:

1. Speak a reply to a text message that will automatically convert speech to text.

2. Find someone in the Contact list and dial that person's cell phone number.

3. Search for something (uses speech analysis plus a search engine).

4. Find out the temperature in New York.

5. See the last closing price for Exxon.

6. Look up who won the World Series in 1925.

7. Request navigation information (turn-by-turn directions and maps).

8. Compose an e-mail message and have it sent to a number of people.

While I think that voice processing is very useful and beneficial in mobile devices (as well as adding to safety while driving), it's important to remember that there are some situations in which voice processing isn't appropriate. Three examples: 1) with a date at a restaurant, 2) with a group of people at a party, and 3) in a meeting at the office. It simply wouldn't be appropriate to start a voice request using your phone in these situations.